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Match Analysis

England's seamers prove that Jaffas are not only Multan's fruit

Trio of world-class wickets briefly steals the show, but Pakistan battle back before the close

James Anderson knocked back Mohammad Rizwan's off stump, Pakistan vs England, 2nd Test, Multan, 3rd day, December 11, 2022

James Anderson knocked back Mohammad Rizwan's off stump  •  Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

You know you're leaving Multan city centre when you get to the fruit stalls that line the road, just before the open expanses take over en route to the cricket stadium. Yet even among the many overflowing with sweet oranges, you will struggle to find any on a par with the three Jaffas dished out after lunch on Sunday of the second Test.
Only 20 percent of the oranges grown here get exported, compared to the generations of fast bowlers forged from these soils, who get sent the world over to share the glory and craft of pace. Thus, the local palettes are finely attuned. Only the quickest speeds, the latest swing, the most lavish moment, and immaculate wrists will do. Combine all that to knock out the stumps as if they've stolen something and, well, you've got a direct line to any Pakistani's heart.
For 12 overs within a period of 14 at the start of the second day's middle session, those switchboards were jammed with calls from James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood, all offering different amounts of each with dismissals that ensured England maintained a solid footing in this match.
The best and most juicy of the three came first. Anderson, a 40-year-old veteran enjoying a new lease of life under the resident fun-loving minimalists of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, produced a delivery to rival even the very best of his 674 wickets. For this England regime, the stripping-away of the stresses of Test cricket has come through simplifying its most important parts, and as England resumed after the first interval, wicketless after Pakistan had chipped 64 runs in 15 overs off a target of 355, the oldest swinger in town had ball in hand for the first time in the innings.
This was only the third time since 2009 that Anderson hadn't taken the new ball at the start of an innings, but the second time in a week, so we may soon have to stop dwelling on that. His role has evolved in this side to such an extent that he is both leaning on his experience to act as a mentor to his counterparts, but has also reverted to being something on a strike bowler. Here, England needed to produce something out of nothing. Anderson delivered the goods within five deliveries of the restart.
You knew it was a good one because even the victim, Mohammed Rizwan, effused his love for Anderson at the end of play. He seemed to relish the fact that he was the punchline for this moment; his Stockholm syndrome condensed within the fractions of a second the ball was released, seam-perfect on an off-stump line before jagging away just enough to leave Rizwan's blade on read. "I love him because of his bowling," Rizwan beamed, "and obviously I had no answers of his questions."
The wicketkeeper-batter had turned makeshift opener in Imam-ul-Haq's absence, and even quipped it was as if he had been done with a Dukes ball. The Kookaburra is not quite the kryptonite to Anderson that it is to other English seamers, and nor are these conditions. In the last ten years alone, Anderson averages 20.65 in Asia which, remarkably, is lower than his average at home during this period (20.91). That figure is still a stellar 22.94 if you factor in his pivotal, if less statistically remarkable, role on England's victorious Test tour of India, in which MS Dhoni, no less, said he was the difference between the teams.
On a pitch where the tunes are getting harder to come by, as each turn of the heavy roller compacts it further to deaden the bounce and movement, Anderson made that delivery sing.
You don't always get wickets with balls like those, but anecdotally it seems that Anderson does more than most. Perhaps, because he produces so many of them, probability works in his favour. It makes you wonder how many have been lost to the annals of time simply because they failed to clip a bit of wood - edge or stump - or a front pad.
So, the tone had been set and the parameters were clear. Special things were required, and quickly. Three overs later, Robinson stepped up.
When Robinson first trained with England as part of an enlarged group in 2020 to mitigate for Covid restrictions around training, he earned the nickname "McGrath" for his unerring accuracy. Funnily enough, he is a very good mimic of bowling actions, and McGrath's not a bad one to replicate. He often experiments in training: during the Ashes last winter, in a bid to try a few new things, he spent the best part of a net session bowling like Mohammad Shami after watching him in action during India's series with South Africa the night before. And off the back of his senior partner's brilliance, he too produced a Jaffa worthy of export.
Except, he did it his own way. Having played around with his angle at the crease - wide to offset the right-hander's head position, then tight to the stumps to further upset his bearings - Robinson arrived in between for the penultimate ball of the 19th over. The release, as ever, was perfect. The merest whiff of reverse took it in, but not so much as to be threatening the stumps. Then it pitched.
One of Robinson's key facets is he seams the ball more than anyone in England. Despite his relative lack of pace, the logic - right at the start of his Test career - was that the energy he imparts on the ball is such that he is bound to do something, on even the most unresponsive tracks abroad. So it was no surprise to the England management that Robinson was able to make the ball talk in these conditions. It was a bit more of a surprise to the batter, mind you, who had made his mind up to leave just after release. The fact it deviated by a foot almost excuses the lack of shot. If you worried about deliveries out there, you wouldn't leave the house.
This was, by the way, the third time Robinson has bowled a batter who has offered no shot. That works out at a percentage of 5.2 percent of his 58 dismissals to date. By comparison, of Anderson's 294 victims since 2015, only four have been done in similar fashion - 1.4 percent.
Oh, and it wasn't any ordinary batter, either. It was Babar Azam. You know, the crown prince of batting, leader of the opposition, possessor of a technique so immaculate you could eat your dinner off it. And here he was, being made to look foolish in his own backyard (where he averages 60), in front of his own people (for whom he can do no wrong with the bat), by the man who had taken him out 24 hours earlier as well. In so doing, Robinson became the first seamer to bowl Babar twice in a match. He is midway through only his 12th Test cap, is currently averaging less than 20, and is already doing things others can't
The final offering came from Wood. That the Test side have been able to call on his pace for the first time since March was as much a boost to the locals, wowed by his exploits during the T20I series a couple of months back, and anticipating his fire with the red ball this time. Every scuttle to the crease was accompanied by crescendo-ing hums from the stands. Though he would take out one of their own at the start of the 29th over, the hollering that pushed through the disappointment was loud and clear. And why not - he had satisfied the carnal urges of a pace-savvy audience with the first uprooted stump of the tour.
Clocking in at 87.1mph, it was slow by the standards that Wood set on day one when he ticked over 97mph in the seventh over of Pakistan's first innings. Making up for the 10mph drop, however, was the slightly lower, more catapult-like right arm which exaggerated the reverse to such an extent even the impressive Abdullah Shafique, set on 45 with his eye in for all of 93 balls, had no answer for the 94th, which cut through a previously impenetrable defense with ease.
Wood's immediate celebration was directed at the floor, having bowled himself off his feet in a bid to hit the pitch hard, as Anderson and Robinson had done before him. Though the trio of wickets were all different, the thread running through them was aggressive accuracy.
Just 16 runs were conceded in their 12 overs tagging in and out of the attack: 60 of their 72 deliveries were either on a good length or just short of that, ensuring batters got little to drive. Their precision was such that, at times, only a leg slip was employed alongside wicketkeeper Ollie Pope. The stumps were the primary target - everything else was an aside.
It highlighted the strength of having a bowler as captain, even one whose official designation is an allrounder. At lunch, Stokes gauged the ball would start to move that little bit more through the air and emerged with a clear plan. It is worth noting he tailored the plan during Anderson's opening over. Prior to the removal of Rizwan, Jack Leach had been warming up to take the Stadium End, but during the celebrations of the ball of the tour, Robinson was instead told to take the next over. Leach's left-arm spin would have to wait to make its own crucial difference four overs before the close.
We are in the midst of citrus season here in Pakistan, so maybe it was only right that the home batters would be the recipients of England's most fruitful period on a day that, ultimately, belonged to the hosts. Pakistan will return on Monday just 157 away from their target of 355, with batting still to come. The juice from that early squeeze quenched England's desire for a clearer route to the tail. Nevertheless, the risk of a bitter aftertaste remains.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo